Autistic Six-year-old Girl Learns to Communicate and Relate to People with the Help of Her Cat

I think we know that animals are wonderful at helping young people with mental conditions, particularly, I believe, autism which is a condition whereby a child has great difficulty in communicating and forming relationships with other people.

In this instance six-year-old Iris Grace barely communicated for the first few years of her life. Her mother, Arabella Carter-Johnson, despaired as I’m sure is the case with many parents of autistic children. I don’t know whether Arabella deliberately decided to see whether a cat would help her daughter. I expect that she did consider a therapy cat and adopted a kitten, a beautiful semi-longhaired tabby kitten who looks like a Maine Coon but I’m not sure whether she’s purebred or not. It doesn’t matter…update: she is a Maine Coon, I have learned.

Charming picture of Thula and Iris.
Charming picture of Thula and Iris.
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What is remarkable is that immediately after they had brought the kitten (who they named Thula) home she sat side-by-side with her daughter Iris as if they had been friends all their lives. And when it was bedtime Thula jumped up and slept in Iris’s arms like a guardian angel. It is not often that a kitten in a new home immediately feels at ease with the home and especially with a certain person. When Iris read her books she would pet, stroke and delicately play with Thula’s ears and whiskers as if it was a own hair.

“Whatever activity we are doing Thula is there and wants to help and be involved… Waterplay, playdoh, painting, bike rides, iPad, puzzles, marble run, drawing… she offers Iris her companionship, friendship and supports me in encouraging Iris to interact.” said Arabella.

Where once Iris had difficulty getting up in the morning before 9 am she now leapt out of bed. The morning after her first night with her new cat companion Iris said, “more cat”. From the word go, Iris was gentle with Thula. There was no mishandling and mistakes. The relationship was based upon close companionship. They stayed close together throughout the day it seems. When Iris was at her table playing with playdough, Thula was there beside her mimicking Iris’s movements. It seemed to Arabella that they understood each other intimately in a way that a human to human relationship could not achieve.

“Thula has lowered [Iris’s] daily anxieties in life and keeps Iris calm….”

In the past, if Iris woke at night she would have asked to go downstairs but with Thula’s presence she stayed in bed with her cat companion, played for a while with a toy and then snuggled up beside her cat to gently fall back to sleep again.

Iris used to have a fear or disliking of water. It is with great good fortune that Thula is one of those cats who likes water to the extent that she jumps in the bath which as you can imagine completely transformed Iris’s attitude towards bathing! At one time Iris’s bath time difficulties had become very hard for Arabella to manage. They became moments of distress for both daughter and mother. It would seem that Thula encouraged Iris to get into the bath because on the first occasion that Thula got into the water Iris said, “hi cat”, and then smiled. This charming cat had led the way and Iris followed.

Thula even allowed Arabella to wash her head which then encouraged Iris to allow her mother to shampoo her hair. No training was involved in any of this. It appears that Thula did it all instinctively. The advantages of having Thula around did not stop there.

In terms of educating Iris at home Arabella was able to refer to Thula and cats generally when teaching her daughter about numbers, the alphabet and writing. Once again, this encouraged Iris to learn and to hold her attention. The lessons centred around Thula. So, for example, in a science lesson Arabella would weigh Thula and compare the sizes and weights of other cats. In terms of art, Arabella made a cat mask. As for history, Arabella was able to use the history of the cat as a springboard to learn about history generally.

I think that the most amazing aspect of this story is the immediacy with which Thula and Iris formed such a strong bond. It was almost as if it was meant to be. It was the missing aspect of her life and once filled she is now able to communicate and form relationships far more fluently.


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Note: The source of this article came from a magazine and not from the Internet Except for the photograph. The magazine article was an extract from a book entitled “Iris Grace” by Arabella Carter-Johnson which is to be published by Penguin Books on 25th February at a price of £16.99 p in the UK.

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